Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Love Scenes vs. Sex Scenes


This sentence came up in a discussion about our February theme: Sex in novels is just scenery; it rarely moves the story forward.

Of course, I took up the rebuttal since all my books have love scenes. Notice I said “love scenes.” How can a reader feel the emotional content if there is none? How does a writer define sex between her two protagonists? How does a reader respond?

Let me elaborate by explaining an eye-opening experience.

I entered one of my romantic suspense books in a contest a while back. One requirement committed everyone entering to judge another genre. I chose Erotica because I’ve written erotica under a pen name. I was not then, nor have I been since, a steady reader of the genre, and wow, was I surprised by the material I judged. I could see why I was not a breakout sensation among erotica writers.

I write basically the same type of character-driven/plot-driven (yes, a book can be both) stories in my erotica novels as I write in my romantic suspense and thriller novels. The main requirement of the stories I judged seemed like how many sex scenes the author could write in their 60-80K words. I likened it to books or movies with excessive violence. Readers/viewers become inured to the extremes when faced with them constantly, and it eventually dulls the senses, which is what happened to me as a judge. I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I want a story, the more complicated the better.

I dislike painting all erotic novels with the same broad brush, because the erotic romance protagonists in the books I judged also wound up in committed relationships, albeit with a couple of the books, more than two people. That’s another blog post entirely.
 
Sex in a book, as in life, is the result of a relationship. That relationship can span the emotions of heated passion to friendship that turns into deep and lasting love, and everything in between. Writing those scenes is the author’s choice. Many writers leave the physical contact behind closed doors. I’m all for that if the writer finds constructing those scenes out of their comfort zone or the reader finds them equally uncomfortable.

Sex scenes are hard to write. I’ve spent hours/days on one scene. For me there has to be affection between the two lead characters at the start of a relationship. The one time I had a serious moment of unbridled passion or lust in a book, it ended quickly and not well. Still, the two characters eventually get to know each other and explore a relationship at the end of the novel. The thwarted passionate scene is the only one between the two in the book. The developing relationship scenes explore their pasts and very complicated personas, so we get to know them and hopefully care about them.

Many readers don’t want those scenes in a mystery or a thriller, which is why my Amazon page states clearly that my books contain adult material. One reviewer reviewed three of my books with a warning. A few women wrote in thanking her for letting them know because they didn’t like those scenes in a mystery. That’s when I included my warning. I also did something no author should do, and that is to comment on a review. I thanked her for the reviews but suggested she not read any more of my books because they all contained sex scenes, some more graphic than others. She felt it was her duty to “enlighten” other readers. Her prerogative indeed. Mine is to write them or not.

By now, you must know my answer as to whether sex scenes move the story forward. Yes, but I prefer to call them love scenes.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Deja Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

22 comments :

  1. I enjoyed your discussion of erotic/romantic scenes. I think Lovecraft's dictum on horror applies here - what is left to the imagination is often stronger. I've noticed many erotic scenes either become clinical (who did exactly what) or vague (they dive into the chaos). The effect is quite different than, say, a good flirting scene.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree that "what is left to the imagination is often stronger." Also, it allows the reader to understand the scene based on her own experience, etc.

      Delete
    2. I've done it both ways, but in my erotic romances, written under a pen name, the scenes are graphic. That's what erotic romance readers want. In my other books, I've never done love/sex/romantic scenes the same way. If a reader has your number and reads the same thing in every book, the writer loses her originality...and the reader. That's not what we want, no matter the genre. Our job is to make each book different even though almost every plot has been done before. That leaves our characters. Make them original and use them to make the sex scene original.

      Delete
    3. I find my scenes are fairly graphic too. But I also find the strength of the scene lies in the dialogue more than the narrative. Finding that appropriate balance is important. It's too much narrative that makes the scene seem clinical to me - especially in my own writing because I loathe euphemisms. Tough stuff to write, that's for sure.

      Delete
    4. The sex scene I liked writing the most was in InSight. My heroine is a blind psychologist and my hero is a cop deafened on the job who's forced into therapy. Using their remaining senses and writing a love scene was a challenge, and I like the way it came out.

      Delete
    5. And on the topic of imagination... what if the sex scene is not part of your knowledge base so you CAN'T imagine it without some graphic description? Do you categorically reject it because you don't know about it? That would make you uncomfortable rather than curious?

      Delete
  2. A sex scene in a traditional mystery novel might surprise a reader, but romantic suspense has a key difference: romance. And romance involves sex as a way to illustrate the hero and heroine's passion for each other. The scenes don't have to be graphic and, in fact, when they are too clinical and go on for pages, it can pull a reader out of the story. I keep mine brief, but with definite heat.
    I like your adult content warning and will add them to the descriptions of my books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found those sex scenes that went on forever boring when I judged the contest. I agree, Harriet, they should be short and passionate; otherwise, the reader is numbed in much the same way as too many car crashes in a movie, and they cease to do the job. Snore.

      Delete
    2. I like the adult content warning too. Polly, can you do a blog post elaborating on this specifically? No rush. For sometime down the road.

      Delete
  3. Hubby and I are watching a former Cinemax series about a strike force. In at least 3 scenes every episode, the character I call the man whore has graphic sex with someone for no apparent reason, no matter how injured. It also has a lot of graphic blood and guts. Hubby mentioned that I didn't seem to be enjoying it. I explained. I like spy stories. I don't object to special forces stories per se. I could live without all the blood and guts, the meaningless body counts, and those stupid sex scenes. They waste screen time instead of developing the plot. Not to be sexist - I think the target audience is male: tits mixed with Halo (game). If a series is HBO or Cinemax, I know it will have lots of gratuitous scenes. If it is BBC, it will be character driven. That's why branding (and genre) are so important. You make a promise to your reader to tell them the kind of story they want to read and to not give them aspects of a story they don't want. Never betray your readers or false advertise. People rarely write loving reviews, but readers scorned will scorch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Diana. A novel written purely for graphic sex scenes wastes an opportunity to show the characters of the protagonists, whether erotica, romance, or romantic suspense. Knowing your target audience helps.

      Delete
    2. "You make a promise to your reader... " I think ever writer should think about and frame that promise. Then honor it. How many authors consciously do this? I'm guessing not all that many.

      Delete
  4. Granted, we can't worry about preparing readers for all the potential triggers a book might contain because triggers can be individual and personal. However, a rape scene is very likely to hit a nerve. If one is ahead in the pages, I'd like to know about it - spoilers or not.

    I've taught myself to watch for signs of scenes of sexual violence or torture coming up in a book so I can skip/skim paragraphs or a pages if I'm already invested in the plot and characters. I can handle some of it, but I have to take it in smaller doses. It's like cayenne - too much might scorch a scar.

    What especially bothers me is when a character who was raped is cured by the touch of the right man. That kind of cultural myth sets up the traumatized and their significant others for a keenly sad kind of failure.

    I guess what I'm saying is I'd rather know if scenes of sexual violence might be ahead, spoilers or not. Likewise, sometimes, I'll believe a book I know might have those situations is worth the risk, but I have to psych myself up before reading it. .

    I guess everyone has "deal-breaker" scenes, and those are mine, even though I write mystery suspense, too. After all, criminals are liable to use sexual violence to assert dominance and claim possession. Deciding whether to "go there" is a tough call to make, both as a writer and as a reader..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do have a scene like that in Mind Games, Rhonda, and strangely, no one has commented on it in a negative way. I also take care not to have a love scene with her love because of it. You're right, it's a tricky, slippery slope. Like all scenes of either sex or violence, it should take in all the ramifications of the aftermath, and it should be a believable part of the story and not sensationalism.

      Delete
  5. I'm still not sure about this. I have included sexual situations that I believe were sensitively done. There is some graphic detail, but it's not erotica. I don't mention adult content in my promotional descriptions, because I make the assumption that my readers are adults. I've asked some of my readers if they found the work too graphic, and they didn't. You cannot remove sex from literature. It is part of life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. I agree, Fran. Adults or not, readers have left reviews of my books claiming they didn't expect sexual situations, even in Hooked, which clearly states it's about an ex-call girl and takes place partly in a bordello. The kinky parts are done with humor, but how more specific can a blurb be and still not get through to the reader? You're fortunate your readers are on the same page as you are. But there are a lot of women, in particular, who don't like anything specific dealing with sex. A NYT bestselling author told me he got skewered in reviews because he had one sex scene and used adult language. Bottom line: write your story the way you want to write it, but don't be surprised when someone leaves a nasty review because you did just that. Thanks for your point of view.

      Delete
  6. I write mystery and romantic suspense. I think of them all as "Mysteries with Relationships." When I'm writing them, the biggest difference is that the sex is off the page in the mysteries, but on the page in the romantic suspense books. And readers will complain no matter what you do, so you have to do what works for the story and the characters and accept that no book is right for everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't agree more, Terry, which is why I'm starting to label them all romantic suspense, except for my series. My romance scenes are definitely less graphic in those two books. They just don't seem to fit as well.

      Delete
  7. Many peoples want to earn money on internet without any investment but there is many online jobs which have many investments. Now you can earn without any investment with Just clicking and Earn daily upto 10 Dollars.
    Join this Best opportunity to make money online without any investment or Charges.
    HotProClicks.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. This was interesting. I like the idea of posting a warning. I wish all of writers would.

    I'm a hard core mystery fan but used to read a variety of romance novels also. I don't read books with sex scenes anymore if I can avoid it. My favorite author when I was in my 20's was K. Woodiwiss and another one I can't remember. They were huge in the 80's. By the end of the decade, I had grown bored with it. I realized when I ran across a sex scene, I could skip every page where the "action" was going on and pick up reading after the scene. I was astounded when I found that I missed absolutely nothing in the story in a single book. It was kind of an epiphany. So, I went stopped buying them. When I run across sex scenes these days, and one does, I still do this and have never found a case where I needed to go back for something I missed in the story.

    That's just my experience. I'm going to share this with my writing group as the subject has come up on occasion. I really like reading this blog. There's always some great stuff here.

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...